Is a Misdiagnosis Considered Malpractice?
Sometimes the law considers a misdiagnosis as malpractice, but not in every situation. A misdiagnosis can be the result of a mistake that does not rise to the level of malpractice, or a misdiagnosis can happen without any negligence by the doctor.
More than 12 million adults a year in the United States get the wrong diagnosis from their doctors. If 20 people go to the doctor, one of them will get misdiagnosed. CBS reports that getting the wrong diagnosis can cause severe harm to the patient in about 50% of the cases. That means that as many as 6 million Americans a year can suffer significant injury because of misdiagnosis.
Experts blame multiple factors, including:
- Doctors rushing through patient visits and not taking the time to perform a thorough physical exam or listen to the patient
- Physicians making mistakes when evaluating the results of diagnostic tests
- Patients providing inaccurate or incomplete medical information to the healthcare provider
Sometimes, more than one factor will combine to cause a misdiagnosis.
The Scope of Misdiagnosis
A misdiagnosis can mean either that the doctor made a diagnosis, but it was wrong, or that the physician failed to make a diagnosis. Either type of misdiagnosis can be malpractice.
When a Misdiagnosis Is Malpractice
We must be able to prove all four of these factors to hold a doctor responsible for medical malpractice:
- The doctor owed you a duty of care. All doctors have a responsibility to treat all their patients with medical services that are the same level of quality as similar physicians would provide in similar circumstances. For example, if a patient has an extremely fast heartbeat, the doctor should look for the cause of the abnormality.
- The physician breached the duty of care. Let’s say that the doctor made a note in the patient’s chart to follow up in a year and see if the patient still had an unusually high heart rate, but did not order any diagnostic testing. If a similar physician would have ordered tests in a similar situation, the doctor was negligent.
- The negligence caused harm to the patient. Negligence alone is not malpractice. The “no harm, no foul” principle applies to these cases. If the doctor reconsidered his decision and called the patient the next day, sending him for testing, and the patient did not suffer any negative consequences from the delay, the facts probably do not constitute malpractice. The patient did not suffer harm.
- The harm must be quantifiable. On the other hand, if the patient had a heart attack before the physician changed his mind and ordered diagnostic testing, the patient suffered harm from the misdiagnosis. The harm should be physical. Emotional distress by itself is unlikely to satisfy this prong of medical malpractice.
If the facts support all four of these elements, you might have a medical malpractice claim.
When a Mistake Is Not Medical Malpractice
The law does not require doctors to be perfect. If physicians got sued every time that they make mistakes, there would not be any doctors still in practice. We all make mistakes on the job, but when a doctor makes an error, people can die. That potential consequence is why medicine is one of only a handful of professions that can get sued for malpractice.
It is easy for mistakes to happen in the practice of medicine. Someone can accidentally put the wrong patient chart outside the examination room. The doctor walks in to greet you and tells you that you have a disease. The doctor then realizes that he has the wrong patient file. He apologizes and leaves the room to get the correct chart.
There was a medical error that could have caused an adverse outcome, but the doctor caught the mistake in time before you sustained any harm, other than to your stress levels. This situation is an example of a medical error that was not medical malpractice.
How a Misdiagnosis Can Happen Without a Mistake by the Doctor
Physicians rely on many other people in the medical community. The lab technicians who run the blood tests, pathologists who examine biopsied tissue, radiologists who read the imaging studies like x-rays and MRIs are all links in the chain of healthcare services.
If one of these links breaks, like a phlebotomist (person who draws your blood) mislabels a tube of blood from someone else as being your blood, your doctor can receive incorrect information. If it is reasonable for the doctor to rely on the flawed data, the doctor might make a misdiagnosis without being responsible for the mistake. You might, however, have a claim against the party that made the error, like the lab.
Newsome Melton Wants to Help With Your Medical Malpractice Case
At Newsome Melton, we help people who suffer harm from medical mistakes. If you or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice, call us today at (855) 633-2757 for a free consultation, as sometimes the court will classify misdiagnosis as malpractice. There is no obligation.
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